It had been nearly 20 years since Colorado welcomed a new ski area when Bluebird Backcountry — a first-of-its-kind concept — opened its gates on Dec. 31, 2020. After all, manufacturing all the amenities and infrastructure that bring resort skiing to life is no small task, especially in the backyard of industry giants like Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Co., respective owners of Epic and Ikon passes.
But Bluebird put a novel twist on the concept: make it “inbounds backcountry.” With 1,200 private acres on the slopes of Bear Mountain, between Steamboat and Kremmling, Colo., Bluebird hosted more than 19,000 skiers and snowboarders since its debut. Its largest day ever saw more than 300 visitors in March of this year.
But the appeal and demand were not enough to overcome the financial and logistical hurdles that have kept the novel ski area from profitability.
“It’s probably a surprise to no one that land is the biggest barrier to entry in the ski industry,” Bluebird Backcountry co-founder and CEO Jeff Woodward said in a press release. “Bear Mountain has good snow and terrain and has been a beautiful home, but we’re not located near our core customer. More than 60% of our guests live in the Front Range, which means lots of folks are driving three-plus hours each way for the day or weekend.”
Woodward also cited a lagging economy and slowed startup funding as contributing factors.
Bluebird Backcountry Shuts Down Despite Success
Bluebird’s folding illustrates just how difficult financial viability is when it comes to running a ski area. The resort succeeded on Kickstarter, bringing in more than $100,000 in seed funding, and saw increased visitor traffic year over year. Bluebird even erected rustic, geodesic dome lodging to ease the commute burden and welcomed visitors to camp in the parking lot.
According to Woodward, the 41 on-site beds were sold out every weekend that they were available.
What’s more, Bluebird’s backcountry ethos also fostered growth and education among new off-piste skiers and split-boarders. The young ski area, which offered backcountry lessons and rented equipment, became one of the largest avalanche instruction providers in the entire U.S.
“There is no question that countless people had life-changing experiences here,” Woodward said. “Our team helped inspire and educate the next generation of backcountry travelers, and we introduced a much-needed antidote to the overcrowded and overbuilt ski industry status quo.”
Despite the closure, Woodward said he believes the Bluebird concept reflects a burgeoning demand for safe, accessible backcountry skiing — and he encourages other passionate backcountry entrepreneurs to carry the torch. As such, Bluebird will sell off its base buildings, lodging, and equipment fleet — what the owners call “essentially a ski area in a box.”
“While it’s heartbreaking to close Bluebird, I’m proud of the experience that we built,” Woodward noted. “Thank you to everyone who believes in Bluebird Backcountry — together we’ll enjoy seeing the ski world continue to evolve.”
If you’d like to send off Bluebird Backcountry right, the team launched a community board to share photos and memories.